Non-lethal force
Non-lethal weapons, also called less-lethal weapons, less-than-lethal weapons, non-deadly weapons, compliance weapons, or pain-inducing weapons are weapon
A weapon, arm, or armament is a tool or instrument used with the aim of causing damage or harm to living beings or artificial structures or systems...

s intended to be less likely to kill a living target than are conventional weapons. It is often understood that accidental, incidental, and correlative casualties are risked wherever force is applied, but non-lethal weapons try to minimise the risk as much as possible. Non-lethal weapons are used in combat situations to limit the escalation of conflict or where employment of lethal force is prohibited or undesirable or where rules of engagement require minimum casualties or policy restricts the use of conventional force.

Non-lethal weapons may be used by conventional military in a range of missions across the force continuum. They may also be used by military police
Military police
Military police are police organisations connected with, or part of, the military of a state. The word can have different meanings in different countries, and may refer to:...

, by United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 forces, and by occupation forces for peacekeeping
Peacekeeping is an activity that aims to create the conditions for lasting peace. It is distinguished from both peacebuilding and peacemaking....

 and stability operations. Non-lethal weapons may also be used to channelize a battlefield or control the movement of civilian populations or limit civilian access to restricted areas (as they were utilized by the U.S.M.C.'s 1st Marine Expeditionary Force
1st Marine Expeditionary Force
The I Marine Expeditionary Force is a Marine Air Ground Task Force of the United States Marine Corps primarily composed of the 1st Marine Division, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and 1st Marine Logistics Group...

 in Somalia
Somalia , officially the Somali Republic and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory...

 in 1995). When used by police forces domestically, similar weapons, tactics, techniques and procedures are often called "less lethal" or "less than lethal" and are employed in riot control
Riot control
Riot control refers to the measures used by police, military, or other security forces to control, disperse, and arrest civilians who are involved in a riot, demonstration, or protest. Law enforcement officers or soldiers have long used non-lethal weapons such as batons and whips to disperse crowds...

, prisoner control, crowd control
Crowd control
Crowd control is the controlling of a crowd, to prevent the outbreak of disorder and prevention of possible riot. Examples are at soccer matches, when a sale of goods has attracted an excess of customers, refugee control, or mass decontamination and mass quarantine situations . It calls for gentler...

, refugee control, and self-defense
Self-defense, self-defence or private defense is a countermeasure that involves defending oneself, one's property or the well-being of another from physical harm. The use of the right of self-defense as a legal justification for the use of force in times of danger is available in many...


Recent history of non-lethal weapons development for military use

In the past, military and police faced with undesirable escalation of conflict had few acceptable options. Military personnel guarding embassies often found themselves restricted to carrying unloaded weapons. National guards or policing forces charged with quelling riot
A riot is a form of civil disorder characterized often by what is thought of as disorganized groups lashing out in a sudden and intense rash of violence against authority, property or people. While individuals may attempt to lead or control a riot, riots are thought to be typically chaotic and...

s were able to use only truncheon
Truncheon may refer to:*Baton *Cutting , means of plant propagation used by gardeners*HMS Truncheon , a British submarine commissioned during Word War II and later sold to Israel...

s or similar club-like weapons, or bayonet
A bayonet is a knife, dagger, sword, or spike-shaped weapon designed to fit in, on, over or underneath the muzzle of a rifle, musket or similar weapon, effectively turning the gun into a spear...

 or saber charges, or fire live ammunition at crowds. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Non-lethality Policy Review Group at U.S. Global Strategy Council in Washington and other independent think tank
Think tank
A think tank is an organization that conducts research and engages in advocacy in areas such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, and technology issues. Most think tanks are non-profit organizations, which some countries such as the United States and Canada provide with tax...

s around the world called for a concerted effort to develop weapons that were more life-conserving, environmentally friendly, and fiscally responsible than weapons available at that time. The futurists Alvin Toffler
Alvin Toffler
Alvin Toffler is an American writer and futurist, known for his works discussing the digital revolution, communication revolution, corporate revolution and technological singularity....

 and Heidi Toffler reported comprehensively on this phase of the history of non-lethal weapons in their 1993 book, War and Anti-War. The U.S. Congress and other governments agreed and began an organized development of non-lethal weapons to provide a range of options between talking and shooting.

Recognizing the need to limit the escalation of force, research and development of a range of non-lethal weapons has since been undertaken internationally by governments and weapons manufacturers to fill the need for such weapons. Some non-lethal weapons may provide more effective riot control than firearms, truncheons or bayonets with less risk of loss of life or serious injury. Before the general availability of early military non-lethal weapons in the mid 1990s, war-fighters had few or no casualty-limiting options for the employment of scalable force and were continually at risk whenever lethal force was prohibited during sensitive missions.

In 2001 the United States Marine Corps
United States Marine Corps
The United States Marine Corps is a branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for providing power projection from the sea, using the mobility of the United States Navy to deliver combined-arms task forces rapidly. It is one of seven uniformed services of the United States...

 revealed its development of a less-than-lethal energy weapon called the Active Denial System
Active Denial System
The Active Denial System is a non-lethal, directed-energy weapon developed by the U.S. military. It is a strong millimeter-wave transmitter primarily used for crowd control . Some ADS such as HPEM ADS are also used to disable vehicles. Informally, the weapon is also called the heat ray...

, a focused high frequency microwave device said to be capable of heating all living matter in the target area rapidly and continuously for the duration of the beam, causing transient intolerable pain
Pain is an unpleasant sensation often caused by intense or damaging stimuli such as stubbing a toe, burning a finger, putting iodine on a cut, and bumping the "funny bone."...

 but no lasting damage. The skin temperature of a person subjected to this weapon can jump to approximately 130 °F (54.4 °C) in as little as 2 seconds depending on the skin's starting temperature. The system is nonlethal (the penetration of the beam into human skin is only a few millimeters).

In 2004, author Jon Ronson cited an unclassified military report titled "Non-Lethal Weapons: Terms and References" 21 acoustic weapons were listed, in various stages of development, including the Infrasound ("Very low-frequency sound which can travel long distances and easily penetrate most buildings and vehicles ... biophysical effects are projected to be: nausea, loss of bowels, disorientation, vomiting, potential internal organ damage or death may occur. Superior to ultrasound...)", however no such effects had been achieved .

Recent history of non-lethal options for employment by police

Until the development of non-lethal weapons, police officers around the world had few if any non-lethal options for riot control. Common tactics used by police that were intended to be non-lethal or less lethal included a slowly-advancing wall of men with batons, officers on horses trained to deal with policing situations, or a charge into a riot using the flats of sabers. Other reasonably successful approaches included shotguns with lower-powered cartridges, "salt shells", and ricocheting the shot off of the ground. In the mid 1900s, with the integration of fire-control systems into major cities, police found that high-pressure fire hoses could be effective in dispersing a crowd (the use of water cannon
Water cannon
A water cannon is a device that shoots a high-pressure stream of water. Typically, a water cannon can deliver a large volume of water, often over dozens of metres / hundreds of feet. They are used in firefighting and riot control. Most water cannon fall under the category of a fire...

s and fire trucks has remained an effective nonlethal tactic to disperse riots). Trained police dog
Police dog
A police dog, often referred to as a "K-9 dog" in some areas , is a dog that is trained specifically to assist police and other law-enforcement personnel in their work...

s were also commonly used to scare and disperse rioters and apprehend individuals. In the 1980s the development of the high-tensile plastics Kevlar
Kevlar is the registered trademark for a para-aramid synthetic fiber, related to other aramids such as Nomex and Technora. Developed at DuPont in 1965, this high strength material was first commercially used in the early 1970s as a replacement for steel in racing tires...

 and Lexan
Lexan is a registered trademark for SABIC Innovative Plastics' brand of polycarbonate resin thermoplastic. Polycarbonate polymer is produced by reacting bisphenol A with carbonyl dichloride, also known as phosgene. Lexan is the brand name for polycarbonate sheet and resin in a wide range of grades...

 revolutionized personal armor and shields, and led to new tactics for riot squads and other special-purpose teams. Officers could now stand up against violent rioters throwing dangerous projectiles without having to resort to lethal methods to quickly disperse the danger. Coupled with the introduction of effective non-lethal chemical agents such as tear gas and offensive odor canisters, and non-lethal impact rounds such as rubber bullets
Rubber Bullets
"Rubber Bullets" is a song by 10cc from their debut self-titled album.Written and sung by Kevin Godley, Lol Creme and Graham Gouldman and produced by 10cc, "Rubber Bullets" was the band's first number one single in the United Kingdom, spending a single week at the top in June 1973. It fared worse...

 and "bean bag" flexible baton round
Flexible baton round
A bean bag round, also known by its trademarked name flexible baton round, is a baton round fired as a shotgun shell used for less lethal apprehension of suspects.-Description:...

s, riot tactics were modified to rely less on violent response to attacking rioters than on a return to the slowly-advancing wall, with supporting officers firing non-lethal ordnance into the crowd to discourage advance.

Police officers on patrol were traditionally armed with a baton or pistol or both, and non-lethal methods of subduing an attacker centered on hand-fighting techniques such as Jujutsu
Jujutsu , also known as jujitsu, ju-jitsu, or Japanese jiu-jitsu, is a Japanese martial art and a method of close combat for defeating an armed and armored opponent in which one uses no weapon, or only a short weapon....

 and baton use. In the 1980s and 1990s officers began deploying non-lethal personal sidearms such as pepper spray
Pepper spray
Pepper spray, also known as OC spray , OC gas, and capsicum spray, is a lachrymatory agent that is used in riot control, crowd control and personal self-defense, including defense against dogs and bears...

s, and eventually electroshock weapons such as Taser
A Taser is an electroshock weapon that uses electrical current to disrupt voluntary control of muscles. Its manufacturer, Taser International, calls the effects "neuromuscular incapacitation" and the devices' mechanism "Electro-Muscular Disruption technology"...

s, which were developed for use by police and also found a market in self-defense
Self-defense (theory)
The right of self-defense is the right for civilians acting on their own behalf to engage in violence for the sake of defending one's own life or the lives of others, including the use of deadly force.- Theory :The...

 by private citizens. However, these weapons were developed for non-lethal resolution of a one-on-one conflict.

During the 1990s and early 2000s interest in various other forms of less-than-lethal weapons for military and police use rose. Amongst other factors, the use of less-than-lethal weapons may be legal under international law and treaty in situations where weapons such as aerosol sprays or gases defined as chemical are not. Less-than-lethal weapons are also useful in keeping the peace in the aftermath of violent conflict.

Between the years of 1987-1990 after a 3 year field study by the FBI's Firearm's Training Unit; In 1990 the use of Oleoresin Capsicum was first issued and used by the FBI as the first official law enforcement agency.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s police began to adopt a new pepper spray delivery system based on the equipment used in paintball
Paintball is a sport in which players compete, in teams or individually, to eliminate opponents by tagging them with capsules containing water soluble dye and gelatin shell outside propelled from a device called a paintball marker . Paintballs have a non-toxic, biodegradable, water soluble...

s. A specialized paintball, called a "pepperball", is filled with liquid or powdered capsaicin
Capsaicin 2CHCH=CH4CONHCH2C6H3-4--3- ) is the active component of chili peppers, which are plants belonging to the genus Capsicum. It is an irritant for mammals, including humans, and produces a sensation of burning in any tissue with which it comes into contact...

, the active ingredient in pepper spray, and is propelled by compressed gas using a paintball marker similar to those used for the sport but operating at higher pressure. The impact of the capsule is immediately painful (a pepperball's shell is thicker than a standard paintball and is fired at higher velocity), and it breaks open on impact, dispersing the capsaicin with similar effect to aerosol-delivered pepper spray. However, to be most effective, pepper spray must contact the eyes, nose, or mouth of the target; pepper spray on clothing or tougher skin has a much reduced effect.


Non-lethal weapons ability to incapacitate with minimal lasting effects has made them the weapon of choice for use in civilian populations. However, some analysts describe "non-lethal" as a misnomer and instead define them as "less-lethal".

Area denial

Area denial weapons work by either incapacitating or detering the enemy.


Vehicle stoppers include a wide range of methods and devices meant to disable a vessel or vehicle to prevent attack by an oncoming vessel or vehicle or to stop that vessel or vehicle for evaluation. Vessel and vehicle stoppers may include kinetic, chemical, or electromagnetic means.


A caltrop is an antipersonnel weapon made up of two or more sharp nails or spines arranged in such a manner that one of them always points upward from a stable base...

s are known to have been in use since Roman times and may have been used earlier: the concept was familiar to the 4th century BC Greeks, who used rocks, brush, nets and trees placed in the path of enemy conveyances on land or ensnarement devices hidden under water to achieve the same result: stop the enemy or suspected hostile in his tracks for examination or to prevent or limit incursions. Contemporary caltrops look something like large jacks from the childhood game. Placed in the path of oncoming wheeled or tracked vehicles, they are meant to foul wheels, destroy tires and tracks, and incapacitate vehicles.


Simple rows or clusters of sharpened sticks (nowadays also known as punji stick
Punji stick
The Punji stick or Punji stake is a type of booby trapped stake. It is a simple spike, made out of wood or bamboo, generally placed upright in the ground. Punji sticks are usually deployed in substantial numbers....

s), and the use of small caltrops have been a feature of anti-infantry
Infantrymen are soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face to face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are the backbone of armies...

 warfare for a long time. However, due to the difficulty of mass-producing them in the pre-modern age, they were rarely used except in the defense of limited areas or chokepoints, especially during sieges, where they were used to help seal breaches. Increasing ease of production still did not prevent these methods from slowly falling out of favor from the late Middle Ages onward.

Caltrops are still sometimes used in modern conflicts, such as during the Korean War
Korean War
The Korean War was a conventional war between South Korea, supported by the United Nations, and North Korea, supported by the People's Republic of China , with military material aid from the Soviet Union...

, where Chinese troops, often wearing only light shoes, were particularly vulnerable. In modern times, special caltrops are also sometimes used against wheeled vehicles with pneumatic tires. Some South American urban guerrillas as the Tupamaros
Tupamaros, also known as the MLN-T , was an urban guerrilla organization in Uruguay in the 1960s and 1970s. The MLN-T is inextricably linked to its most important leader, Raúl Sendic, and his brand of social politics...

 and Montoneros
Montoneros was an Argentine Peronist urban guerrilla group, active during the 1960s and 1970s. The name is an allusion to 19th century Argentinian history. After Juan Perón's return from 18 years of exile and the 1973 Ezeiza massacre, which marked the definitive split between left and right-wing...

 called them "miguelitos" and used these as a tactic to avoid pursuit after ambushes.

Active Denial System

Increasingly, combat vehicles, such as the urban variant of the Leopard 2
Leopard 2
The Leopard 2 is a main battle tank developed by Krauss-Maffei in the early 1970s for the West German Army. The tank first entered service in 1979 and succeeded the earlier Leopard 1 as the main battle tank of the German Army. Various versions have served in the armed forces of Germany and twelve...

 main battle tank, are being fitted with non-lethal weapons. The pictured Humvee has been fitted with the Active Denial System. A dish that projects electromagnetic radiation just powerful enough to penetrate human skin and make the nervous system think the victim is on fire although no physical damage is done. Future combat vehicles such as the American GCV Infantry Fighting Vehicle
GCV Infantry Fighting Vehicle
The Ground Combat Vehicle Infantry Fighting Vehicle is an infantry fighting vehicle being developed for the U.S. Army. The program originated as the lead vehicle of the U.S. Army's Ground Combat Vehicle program coordinated by TACOM and spawned a parallel program coordinated by DARPA...

 will incorporate non-lethal weapons.


Non-lethal weapons are intended to minimize injury or death. While people are occasionally seriously injured or killed by these weapons, fatalities are relatively infrequent. Causes of death from non-lethal weapons are varied and occasionally uncertain. Misplaced or ricocheting shots, pre-existing medical conditions, inadequate user training, repetitive applications and intentional misuse have been implicated in different cases where death has occurred.

As different parts of the body differ in vulnerability, and because people vary in weight and fitness, any weapon powerful enough to incapacitate may be capable of killing under certain circumstances. Thus "non-lethal force" does have some risk of causing death: in this context "non-lethal" means only "not intended to kill".

Several groups maintain there is great room for improvement in non-lethal weapons and procedures for their use. Claims for the relative safety of such weapons are usually contingent on their being used "properly." For example, the rubber bullet
Rubber bullet
Rubber bullets are rubber or rubber-coated projectiles that can be fired from either standard firearms or dedicated riot guns. They are intended to be a non-lethal alternative to metal projectiles...

s developed during the 1960s were supposed to be fired at the ground and hit the target only after ricochet, and other non-lethal bullets are designed to be fired at the lower body; they can be lethal if fired directly at the head, as commonly happens.


Non-lethal rounds are firearm rounds
Cartridge (firearms)
A cartridge, also called a round, packages the bullet, gunpowder and primer into a single metallic case precisely made to fit the firing chamber of a firearm. The primer is a small charge of impact-sensitive chemical that may be located at the center of the case head or at its rim . Electrically...

 which are designed to incapacitate, but not kill
Shooting to wound
Shooting to wound refers to attempts to use a firearm to harm someone without killing him. It is controversial, in that a person can be accidentally killed by this method, and attempts to hit a limb rather than the torso may result in a stray bullet going through the body part or missing entirely,...

, a target. The rounds rely on the transfer of kinetic energy to accomplish this incapacitation. Rubber bullet
Rubber bullet
Rubber bullets are rubber or rubber-coated projectiles that can be fired from either standard firearms or dedicated riot guns. They are intended to be a non-lethal alternative to metal projectiles...

s, wax bullets, plastic bullet
Plastic bullet
A plastic bullet or plastic baton round is a non-lethal projectile fired from a specialised gun. Although designed as a non-lethal weapon they have still caused several deaths. They are generally used for riot control...

s, beanbag rounds, and rubber bullets with electroshock effect (e.g. Taser XREP rounds) are less lethal than conventional metal bullets, and are also propelled at lower speed by using less propellant. "Bean bag" type bullets are sometimes referred to as flexible baton round
Flexible baton round
A bean bag round, also known by its trademarked name flexible baton round, is a baton round fired as a shotgun shell used for less lethal apprehension of suspects.-Description:...

s. More recently, high-velocity paintball guns are also used to launch less-lethal rounds, including the FN 303
FN 303
The FN 303 is a semi-automatic non-lethal riot gun designed and manufactured by Fabrique Nationale de Herstal. The FN 303's projectiles have been specifically designed to break up on impact, reducing risks of penetrating injuries...

 launcher and PepperBall commercial products. There is also the Variable Velocity Weapon Concept, for which a propulsion energy source may not yet have been clearly established and/or finalized. In any case, all of these technologies apply the same basic mechanism, which is to launch a mass at the target that interacts kinetically.


Hand grenade
Hand grenade
A hand grenade is any small bomb that can be thrown by hand. Hand grenades are classified into three categories, explosive grenades, chemical and gas grenades. Explosive grenades are the most commonly used in modern warfare, and are designed to detonate after impact or after a set amount of time...

s come in several less-lethal varieties, such as "flashbang" (stun) grenades, "sting" grenades with rubber shrapnel, and grenades designed to release chemical irritants (described below).

In 1972 stun grenades were used to capture the hijacked Sabena Flight 571 allowing the Israeli forces headed by Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak is an Israeli politician who served as Prime Minister from 1999 until 2001. He was leader of the Labor Party until January 2011 and holds the posts of Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister in Binyamin Netanyahu's government....

 and including Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu is the current Prime Minister of Israel. He serves also as the Chairman of the Likud Party, as a Knesset member, as the Health Minister of Israel, as the Pensioner Affairs Minister of Israel and as the Economic Strategy Minister of Israel.Netanyahu is the first and, to...

 to storm the plane and take it over within 10 minutes while capturing two terrorists and killing Ali Taha the leader of the terrorist group and his aid, while rescuing all passengers (3 were wounded, and one died of her injuries several days later).

Stun grenades were ruled out and not used by the German forces storming the hijacked Lufthansa Flight 181
Lufthansa Flight 181
Lufthansa Flight 181 was a Lufthansa Boeing 737-230 Adv aircraft named Landshut that was hijacked on October 13, 1977 by four members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine...

 in Somalia, due to high phosphor content found during testing in Dubai.

A stun grenade was used by members of the IHH
Indian hedgehog homolog , also known as IHH, is a protein which in humans is encoded by the IHH gene.-Function:The Indian Hedgehog protein is one of three proteins in the mammalian hedgehog family, the others being desert hedgehog and Sonic hedgehog...

 against the IDF
Israel Defense Forces
The Israel Defense Forces , commonly known in Israel by the Hebrew acronym Tzahal , are the military forces of the State of Israel. They consist of the ground forces, air force and navy. It is the sole military wing of the Israeli security forces, and has no civilian jurisdiction within Israel...

 soldiers during the Gaza flotilla raid
Gaza flotilla raid
The Gaza flotilla raid was a military operation by Israel against six ships of the "Gaza Freedom Flotilla" on 31 May 2010 in international waters of the Mediterranean Sea...

 at the beginning of the IDF storming of the Mavi Marmara.

In June
June is the sixth month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars and one of the four months with a length of 30 days. Ovid provides two etymologies for June's name in his poem concerning the months entitled the Fasti...

 2010 in Kenya, a stun grenade was used to draw attention, and then a real grenade along with an explosive package were used, killing many people. In April
April is the fourth month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars, and one of four months with a length of 30 days. April was originally the second month of the Roman calendar, before January and February were added by King Numa Pompilius about 700 BC...

 during the 2010 Kyrgyzstani uprising
2010 Kyrgyzstani uprising
The 2010 Kyrgyzstani revolution was a series of riots and demonstrations across Kyrgyzstan in April 2010 that led ultimately to the ousting of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The uprising stemmed from growing anger against Bakiyev's administration, rising energy prices, and the sluggish economy, and...

 police attempted to use stun grenades to stop a demonstration but the crowd overwhelmed the police. In March stun grenades were used by Belorussian police in Minsk
- Ecological situation :The ecological situation is monitored by Republican Center of Radioactive and Environmental Control .During 2003–2008 the overall weight of contaminants increased from 186,000 to 247,400 tons. The change of gas as industrial fuel to mazut for financial reasons has worsened...

 against demonstrators, and again in September they were used by Greek police in Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

. In both cases the demonstrations were dispersed with no injuries.

In February 2011 stun grenades were seen used by Egyptian police against rioters.


Water cannon
Water cannon
A water cannon is a device that shoots a high-pressure stream of water. Typically, a water cannon can deliver a large volume of water, often over dozens of metres / hundreds of feet. They are used in firefighting and riot control. Most water cannon fall under the category of a fire...

s are commonly used in crowd and riot control, for dispersal or to prevent movement on a particular position. Water-filled rounds for small arms are in experimental stages.

Scent-based weapons

A malodorant is a chemical compound whose extreme stench acts as a temporary incapacitant. It attacks the olfactory and/or trigeminal nerves of the person introduced to the chemical. These compounds are usually composed of at least two ingredients: the malodorant compound and a carrier liquid...

s produce smells so horrible they cause people to leave the affected area. In 2008 The Israeli Defence Forces have begun using Skunk
Skunk (weapon)
"Skunk" is a malodorant, non-lethal weapon used for crowd control by the Israeli Defense Forces. Deriving its name from the animal of the same name, "Skunk" is dispersed as a form of mist, fired from a water cannon, which leaves a terrible odor of rot or sewage on whatever it touches. It does not...

 for crowd control. It is a form of mist sprayed from a water cannon, which leaves a terrible odor of rot or sewage on whatever it touches, and does not wash off easily.

Pepper spray

The active ingredient in pepper spray
Pepper spray
Pepper spray, also known as OC spray , OC gas, and capsicum spray, is a lachrymatory agent that is used in riot control, crowd control and personal self-defense, including defense against dogs and bears...

 is oleoresin capsicum (OC), an acrid irritant chemical derived from cayenne pepper
Cayenne pepper
The cayenne pepper—also known as the Guinea spice,cow-horn pepper, aleva, bird pepper,or, especially in its powdered form, red pepper—is a red, hot chili pepper used to flavor dishes and for medicinal purposes. Named for the city of Cayenne in French Guiana, it is a cultivar of Capsicum annuum...


A 1998 estimate by the International Association of Chiefs of Police
International Association of Chiefs of Police
The International Association of Chiefs of Police was founded in Chicago in 1893 as the National Chiefs of Police Union. The primary goal of this organization was to apprehend and return criminals who had fled the agency jurisdictions in which they were wanted...

 suggested at least 113 pepper spray-related fatalities had occurred in the United States, all with aggravating factors such as intoxication, mental illness or pre-existing health problems, or from the police use of airway-restrictive immobilizing holds that can cause positional asphyxia
Positional asphyxia
Positional asphyxia, also known as postural asphyxia, is a form of asphyxia which occurs when someone's position prevents them from breathing adequately. A small but significant number of people die suddenly and without apparent reason during restraint by police, prison officers and health care...

. The Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union
American Civil Liberties Union
The American Civil Liberties Union is a U.S. non-profit organization whose stated mission is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States." It works through litigation, legislation, and...

 recommends against maximal prone restraint techniques following pepper spray application, and they caution that anyone sprayed should be monitored to ensure effective breathing.

Tear gas

The use of chemical weapons such as tear gas (CS) and pepper spray (OC) has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism due to studies showing serious long term side effects. Many police forces are no longer exposing their members to the chemicals during training.

The journalist Rubén Salazar
Ruben Salazar
Rubén Salazar was a Mexican-American journalist killed by a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy during the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War on August 29, 1970 in East Los Angeles, California. During the 1970s, his killing was often cited as a symbol of unjust treatment of...

 was killed in Los Angeles in 1970 by an errant CS gas canister during the Chicano riots
Chicano Moratorium
The Chicano Moratorium, formally known as the National Chicano Moratorium Committee, was a movement of Chicano anti-war activists that built a broad-based coalition of Mexican-American groups to organize opposition to the Vietnam War...


There have been accusations that the use of (inflammable) CS gas
CS gas
2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile is the defining component of a "tear gas" commonly referred to as CS gas, which is used as a riot control agent...

 canisters during the Waco siege
Waco Siege
The Waco siege began on February 28, 1993, and ended violently 50 days later on April 19. The siege began when the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms attempted to execute a search warrant at the Branch Davidian ranch at Mount Carmel, a property located east-northeast of Waco,...

 in 1993 contributed to the fire that killed many Branch Davidians.


Often promoted for self defense, mace
Mace (spray)
Chemical Mace is a tear gas in the form of an aerosol spray which propels a lachrymatory agent mixed with a volatile solvent. It is sometimes used as a self-defense device...

 is a spray of various formulations, that may include tear gas, pepper spray, and phenacyl chloride (CN).


Psychochemical weapons
Psychochemical weapons
Psychochemical weapons, also known as drug weapons, are psychopharmacological agents used within the context of military aggression. They fall within the range of mid-spectrum agents, i.e. an intermediate range between chemical weapons and biological weapons...

 are psychoactive drugs, such as BZ
3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate
3-quinuclidinyl benzilate , IUPAC name 1-azabicyclo[2.2.2]Oct-3-yl α-hydroxy-α-phenylbenzeneacetate, is an odorless military incapacitating agent. Its NATO code is BZ...

Lysergic acid diethylamide, abbreviated LSD or LSD-25, also known as lysergide and colloquially as acid, is a semisynthetic psychedelic drug of the ergoline family, well known for its psychological effects which can include altered thinking processes, closed and open eye visuals, synaesthesia, an...

, Kolokol-1
Kolokol-1 is a synthetic opioid, developed for use as an aerosolizable incapacitating agent. Although the exact chemical structure has not yet been revealed, it is thought to be a derivative of the potent opioid fentanyl, most probably 3-methylfentanyl dissolved in halothane as an organic...

, EA-3167
EA-3167 is a potent and long lasting anticholinergic deliriant drug, related to the chemical warfare agent 3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate . It was developed under contract to Edgewood Arsenal during the 1960s as part of the US military chemical weapons program, in an attempt to develop non-lethal...

, and methamphetamine
Methamphetamine is a psychostimulant of the phenethylamine and amphetamine class of psychoactive drugs...

 designed to have a disorienting effect when used during combat or interrogation.

Sleep gas

During the Moscow theater hostage crisis
Moscow theater hostage crisis
The Moscow theater hostage crisis, also known as the 2002 Nord-Ost siege, was the seizure of the crowded Dubrovka Theater on 23 October 2002 by some 40 to 50 armed Chechens who claimed allegiance to the Islamist militant separatist movement in Chechnya. They took 850 hostages and demanded the...

 an unsuccessful attempt to use an unknown gas - thought to be fentanyl, or 3-methylfentanyl
3-Methylfentanyl is an opioid analgesic that is an analogue of fentanyl. 3-Methylfentanyl is one of the most potent drugs that has been widely sold on the black market, estimated to be between 400-6000 times stronger than morphine depending on which isomer is used .3-Methylfentanyl was first...

, for inducing sleep in the terrorists and hostages, caused the deaths of many hostages, some from choking on their vomit, others from an overdose, while many of the Chechen terrorists survived using gas masks and were able to fight the Russian forces (still, the suicide bombers among the hostages lost consciousness, as projected). The Russian government was accused of using the gas, knowing that many of the hostages would die as a result, but this has never been proved. Sleeping gas has not been used by armed forces since.

Other chemical agents

Blister agent
Blister agent
A blister agent, or vesicant, is a chemical compound that causes severe skin, eye and mucosal pain and irritation. They are named for their ability to cause severe chemical burns, resulting in painful water blisters on the bodies of those affected...

s, including CR gas
CR gas
CR gas or dibenzoxazepine, chemically dibenz[b,f][1,4]oxazepine, is an incapacitating agent and a lachrymatory agent. CR was developed by the British Ministry of Defence as a riot control agent in the late 1950s and early 1960s....

, are less often used riot control agents. Other irritants include CS gas
CS gas
2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile is the defining component of a "tear gas" commonly referred to as CS gas, which is used as a riot control agent...

 and nonivamide
Nonivamide, also called pelargonic acid vanillylamide or PAVA, is an organic compound and a capsaicinoid. It is an amide of pelargonic acid and vanillyl amine. It is present in chili peppers, but is commonly manufactured synthetically...


Sticky foam

Sticky foam
Sticky foam
Sticky foam is an incapacitant, used when less lethal force is required, consisting of various extremely tacky and/or tenacious materials carried in compressed form with a propellant and used to block, entangle, and impair individuals. A National Institute of Justice-funded project at Sandia...

 was tried by the U.S. Marine Corps in the peacekeeping Operation United Shield
Operation United Shield
Operation United Shield was the name given to a multinational military operation that was conducted from 9 January 1992 to 3 March 1995. The purpose of Operation United Shield was the safe evacuation of all United Nations peacekeeping troops from Somalia...

 in 1995 with some success, but as a result various complications in its field use were also discovered.

Electroshock weapons

Electroshock weapons are incapacitant weapons used for subduing a person by administering electric shock aimed at disrupting superficial muscle functions. One type is a conductive energy device (CED), an electroshock gun popularly known by the brand name "Taser
A Taser is an electroshock weapon that uses electrical current to disrupt voluntary control of muscles. Its manufacturer, Taser International, calls the effects "neuromuscular incapacitation" and the devices' mechanism "Electro-Muscular Disruption technology"...

", which fires projectiles that administer the shock through a thin, flexible wire. Other electroshock weapons such as stun gun
Stun gun
Stun gun may refer to:*Electroshock weapon, an incapacitant weapon that momentarily disables a person with an electric shock*Directed-energy weapon, a weapon that emits energy in an aimed direction without projectile, if it causes unconsciousness...

s, stun batons, and electroshock belts administer an electric shock by direct contact.

Directed energy weapons

Directed energy weapons are weapons that emit energy in an aimed direction without the means of a projectile. They are non-lethal and can immobilize people as well as machines (e.g. vehicles). Directed energy weapons include electromagnetic weapon
Electromagnetic Weapon
Electromagnetic weapons are a type of directed energy weapons which use electromagnetic radiation to deliver heat, mechanical, or electrical energy to a target to cause various, sometimes very subtle, effects. They can be used against humans, electronic equipment, and military targets generally,...

s, (including laser weapons), particle beam weapon
Particle beam weapon
A particle beam weapon uses an ultra-high-energy beam of atoms or electrons to damage a material target by hitting it, and thus disrupting its atomic and molecular structure. A particle beam weapon is a type of directed-energy weapon, which directs energy in a particular direction by a means of...

s, and sonic weapons.

Safety and legal status

In the United States of America, the University of Texas-Austin Institute for Advanced Technology (IAT) conducts basic research to advance electrodynamics and hypervelocity physics related to electromagnetic weapon
Electromagnetic Weapon
Electromagnetic weapons are a type of directed energy weapons which use electromagnetic radiation to deliver heat, mechanical, or electrical energy to a target to cause various, sometimes very subtle, effects. They can be used against humans, electronic equipment, and military targets generally,...

s. Although generally considered 'non-lethal weapons', electromagnetic weapons do pose health threats to humans. In fact, "non-lethal weapons can sometimes be deadly."

United States Department of Defense
United States Department of Defense
The United States Department of Defense is the U.S...

 policy explicitly states that non-lethal weapons "shall not be required to have a zero probability of producing fatalities or permanent injuries." Although a Human Effects Advisory Panel was established in 1998 to provide independent assessment on human effects, data, and models for the use of 'non-lethal weapons' on the general population, the TECOM Technology Symposium in 1997 concluded on non-lethal weapons: "Determining the target effects on personnel is the greatest challenge to the testing community," primarily because "the potential of injury and death severely limits human tests." However, "directed energy weapons
Directed-energy weapon
A directed-energy weapon emits energy in an aimed direction without the means of a projectile. It transfers energy to a target for a desired effect. Intended effects may be non-lethal or lethal...

 that target the central nervous system and cause neurophysiological disorders" may violate the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons
Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons
The United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons , concluded at Geneva on October 10, 1980 and entered into force in December 1983, seeks to prohibit or restrict the use of certain conventional weapons which are considered excessively injurious or whose effects are indiscriminate.The...

 of 1980. And weapons that go beyond non-lethal intentions and cause "superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering" could violate the Protocol I
Protocol I
Protocol I is a 1977 amendment protocol to the Geneva Conventions relating to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts. It reaffirms the international laws of the original Geneva Conventions of 1949, but adds clarifications and new provisions to accommodate developments in modern...

 to the Geneva Conventions
Geneva Conventions
The Geneva Conventions comprise four treaties, and three additional protocols, that establish the standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment of the victims of war...

 of 1977." Safety and evaluation of the physical and psychological effects of the long-term or repetitive uses of the pain
Pain is an unpleasant sensation often caused by intense or damaging stimuli such as stubbing a toe, burning a finger, putting iodine on a cut, and bumping the "funny bone."...

-inducing non-lethal weapons on humans have not been well understood or studied in any great details. Any such studies require explicit consent of all participants so as not to violate the UN Convention against torture and other cruelties.


Pepper spray is one non-lethal weapon alleged to have been misused by police. In two incidents in California in 1997, police swabbed pepper spray directly into the eyes of protesters. Amnesty International
Amnesty International
Amnesty International is an international non-governmental organisation whose stated mission is "to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated."Following a publication of Peter Benenson's...

 condemned these actions, and claimed that they were likely a violation of the 1984 United Nations Convention Against Torture
United Nations Convention Against Torture
The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is an international human rights instrument, under the review of the United Nations, that aims to prevent torture around the world....


Terrorism concerns

Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute
Lexington Institute
The Lexington Institute is a non-profit public-policy think tank headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, that focuses on national security, education reform, postal service management, space policy, and U.S...

 in Virginia states that: "The relevant (electromagnetic weapon) technology is well within the grasp of some countries and transnational terrorist groups", and further states that U.S. hardware is susceptible to microwave and other directed-energy weapons.

Suitable materials and tools to create electromagnetic weapons are commonly available. "The threat of electromagnetic bomb proliferation is very real."

Also, electroshock weapons can be easily made DIY. Reports have been made of people making Tasers from cell phones and other electrical devices.

See also

  • Bradford Non-Lethal Weapons Research Project
    Bradford Non-Lethal Weapons Research Project
    The Bradford Non-Lethal Weapons Research Project was established in 1995 at the Centre for Conflict Resolution, Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, United Kingdom.The project’s key objectives are to:...

  • Peroneal strike
    Peroneal strike
    A peroneal strike is a temporarily disabling blow to the side of the leg, just above the knee. The attacker aims at the common peroneal nerve, roughly a hand span above the knee, towards the back of the leg...

     (hand-to-hand technique)
  • Net gun
  • Electronic warfare
    Electronic warfare
    Electronic warfare refers to any action involving the use of the electromagnetic spectrum or directed energy to control the spectrum, attack an enemy, or impede enemy assaults via the spectrum. The purpose of electronic warfare is to deny the opponent the advantage of, and ensure friendly...

  • LED Incapacitator
    LED Incapacitator
    The LED Incapacitator is a weapon designed like a flashlight. It emits an extremely bright, rapid, and well-focused series of 'differently-colored random pulses.' Before the human eyes can focus in on one frequency, another frequency comes on, causing intracranial pressure, which results in...

  • R.I.P. cartridge
    R.I.P. cartridge
    The R.I.P. cartridge 12-gauge ammunition comprises cartridges filled with a mixture of micronized CS gas, an inert powder to add weight, and a further non-toxic powder which, on compression and friction, produces a large amount of carbon dioxide gas on exiting the barrel of the shotgun.These...

  • Tranquilliser gun
    Tranquilliser gun
    A tranquilliser gun , capture gun, or dart gun, is a non-lethal gun used for capture via a special chemical. Tranquilliser guns shoot darts filled with tranquilliser that, when injected, temporarily sedate an animal or human, so that it may be handled safely...

External links

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